By Andrea Sutherland
Few young field artillery officers imagine commanding an Army garrison, but for Col. Robert F. McLaughlin, his years as garrison commander have provided him a wealth of knowledge, challenges and experiences.
“The last three years as a garrison commander, I’ve learned more than (during) my entire career,” he said.
McLaughlin entered the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps at the University of Massachusetts in 1983.
“I’d always been a big fan of the military,” he said. “I really enjoyed the things the Army stood for — teamwork, duty. … That’s what drew me to the Army.”
Commissioned as a second lieutenant in 1985, McLaughlin completed the field artillery officer basic and advanced courses, serving with the 2nd Armored Division in Germany as a platoon leader, fires direction officer and company fire support officer. After stints at Fort Ord, Calif.; Fort Hood, Texas; and Camp Lejeune, N.C.; McLaughlin served as the field artillery battery commander for the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, at Fort Hood.
McLaughlin deployed to Bosnia in 1999 as part of Operation Joint Forge. He deployed with the 2nd Marine Division in 2003 as part of Operation Enduring Freedom and again with the Marines to Al Anbar province, Iraq in 2005 as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom. McLaughlin completed a second tour in Iraq as commander of the 5th Battalion, 82nd FA Regiment, 4th BCT, 1st Cav. Div., in 2007.
Yet McLaughlin insists his time as garrison commander at Fort Carson has taught him the most about leadership and the importance of community.
“I had a little apprehension when I found out about the GC slot, but learning to manage an installation, building community relations, all during a huge growth in population, it’s been a great learning experience,” he said.
McLaughlin took command in 2009, just as the 4th Infantry Division moved from Fort Hood to Fort Carson.
“To me, it’s been a cultural change at the installation — bringing the 4th Inf. Div. back to Fort Carson, deploying division (Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion), then welcoming them home — all while the population is growing. … It’s been amazing to watch the mission support elements. … It’s been amazing to watch the dedication of our civilian workforce.”
McLaughlin said he has seen many changes during his command, including an increase in population, changes to infrastructure and the addition of many support services.
“I’m very proud of the Fallen Heroes Family Center,” he said. “It’s survivors helping survivors. It’s important they have a place they can call home.”
Soldier fitness and welfare remained a top priority for McLaughlin throughout his command.
“We transformed the gyms on post,” he said. “We’ve been a pilot for functional fitness to support Soldier readiness.”
Community relationships have also been important and McLaughlin said he encourages the next garrison commander, Col. David L. Grosso, now deputy commander of the 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne), to keep those relationships a priority.
“It’s a team effort,” he said. “It’s all about unity of effort, not unity of command. … My hope is that I’ve set him up with a good team.”
As he prepares for his position as the chief of staff for U.S. Forces-Afghanistan, McLaughlin said he will take the lessons learned at Fort Carson and apply them to his future assignments.
“The skills I learned here will help me as I continue on,” he said. “I leave with a lot of knowledge. I’m proud of what has happened and I’m optimistic of what the future holds.”